My Bucket List of Gratitude

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I’m creating my own kind of bucket list. Not the usual listing of things I wish to do before I leave this earth, but an accounting of the gracious drops of kindness that have filled my pail to the brim. Whether the contribution was a single drip from an eyedropper or gallons upon gallons of generosity, all have buoyed my soul, washed away hours of pain, and carried me through turbulent trials.

And so I have decided to make a conscious effort to recognize these not-so-random acts. Some were as temporary as the morning dew, but equaling as cooling. Others have been like IVs, injecting nourishment continually. A few were summer storms: electrifying, powerful, and brief. Whether their perpetrators knew it or not, each and every one made a significant impact. They quenched my drought in spirit and left me flooded with gratitude.


Item Number 1: Clean House – Warm Heart

My first story takes place when I was a young mother of two toddlers: Albert, age two-and-a-half and Nicholas, just past one. Our family of four was living in Washington State, about 1,000 miles away from most of our family in Southern California. In the 18 months since we had moved there, we had entered into a lovely circle of friends. We were in the early stages of a close, tight-knit relationship. Only time would tell if the stitches would unravel or interweave for a lifetime.

Albert had become very sick with what seemed to be the flu. We soon learned his rapid decline was due to Type 1 diabetes (T1D). He was initially admitted to the hospital for 10 days. Within 24 hours of returning home, he acquired the stomach flu again – a very dangerous situation for any T1D let alone a newly-diagnosed toddler. He returned to the hospital for nearly another week to get him stabilized.

During both hospital stays, my husband, Matt, and I took turns sleeping by Albert’s side. We would both spend our days there, alternating who would remain with him at night and who would go home to take care of Nicholas. Thankfully, one of our friends offered to watch Nicholas while we were at the hospital. Her youngest daughter was his same age and they were like two peas in a pod. While we were learning the perils of over or under dosing insulin, our younger son was enjoying an extended play date.

Needless to say, Matt and I were frazzled. Lack of sleep and worry were leaching away our composure. Fear shrieked through our minds as we relearned how to care for our first-born child. Not to mention we had a one-year-old confused by the prolonged absence of his parents. And the house – oh the house! It was one more thing not receiving a clean bill of health. Gazing at this noise and confusion was only ramping up my anxiety. I felt utterly inadequate and completely unable to do anything about it.

In between hospital visits, another member of our group dropped by to bring us dinner and see how we were doing. This particular friend was the meticulous one in our circle. You know the type – the person whose home is pristine – spic and span – downright gleaming. No dust bunny is ever allowed to propagate in her abode. You’d think the envy would evolve to hate, but it never does, because she is just that nice and charming.

When she arrived, I was perched among piles of laundry that hoarded every square inch of my sofa. Additional mounds of clothing engulfed my feet. Mortified, I shoved the heaps aside so she could sit alongside me. We chitchatted. She asked if there was anything else she could do. What little was left of my mental capabilities silently screamed: PLEASE – HELP ME CLEAN MY HOUSE!!! Still, I was appalled by the vision of her viewing the expanding black rings crowning my toilet bowls. “No, but thank you. We’re doing OK,” I lied.

She didn’t let on, but she didn’t believe a word I said.

The second hospital stay re-initiated the child care round robin. One morning, when Matt dropped off Nicholas, our babysitting friend asked him for a key to our house. “In case Nicholas needs some extra diapers,” she explained. Not realizing that I would be humiliated if anyone saw just how wretched a pigsty we were living in, he handed it over readily. The moment he left, our group commenced their latest escapade of kindness.

Up to this point in this particular trial, I hadn’t really cried. To me, it was a luxury I couldn’t afford. Honestly, I was afraid if I started I would lose any ability to function. So, I corked my tears and kept going.

It was my turn to stay home with Nicholas. The moment I unlocked the door, I knew something was amiss. Instead of the dirt and mildew aroma that usually wafted a greeting, I was welcomed by the delicate scent of pine sol. The disheveled cache of clothing was neatly sorted and folded. The soiled apparel that had overflowed every bedroom hamper was now Downy-fresh and stacked alongside. Everything sparkled – including the toilets! Right in the middle of my kitchen table was a vase filled with fresh-cut flowers. I took one look at that arrangement, collapsed to the floor, and sobbed.

That moment of release is forever tattooed in my memory. It is the point in time I cling to when I am overwhelmed; when I suppose I am alone. Without waiting for me to ask, my friends sensed what I needed and went into action. They saw through my desperate bravado. They cut through the grime and the grit of the situation. By cleaning my house, they wiped away part of the chaos and polished my sanity. I am forever and for all eternity, grateful.

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Beware the Locksmith: A Tale from Home Security

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I opened the door for the locksmith. Possibly mid-sixties. Lint-colored spirals protruding out from under his snapped-brimmed cap. Trach tube in his neck. He inhaled deeply and put a finger to his esophagus. “I’m here to open your safe,” he garbled. Self-satisfied with benevolence, I allowed him into my home.

Graciously, I introduced to him my twenty-year-old son on the couch. We approached the staircase and the locksmith remarked, “You don’t look old enough to have a son that age.” The ease of which the comment slipped from his throat led me to believe this was his customary compliment, burnished to a glassy slipperiness from years of smooth talking. My kindheartedness was now mixed with a marginal depression over my apparent elderly allure. Arm candy at the senior center was not how I pictured my reentry into the dating realm.

The locksmith and I continued up the stairs, through my bedroom, and into the closet to my safe. He assessed my vain attempt at security and slowly revealed his tools. They were wrapped in a leather pouch, similar to a set of chef’s knives. “Why don’t you sit down beside me?” he asked. I obliged, anticipating the innocuous gestures of a man penetrating senile territory. He took another copious breath and plugged the medicinal hole in his gullet.“Are you single?” he inquired. His lack of conventionality was unexpected. Men customarily demonstrate their exceptional endowments and household worth as a prelude to the courtship dance: “See how virile I am? I just fixed your dishwasher, painted your bathroom, laid a floor! Any pipes needing unclogging?” His presentation of implements reminded me of the dentist in “Marathon Man.

“Is this the safe?” he rasped, startling me. I said yes and explained I had lost the key and needed it opened. The locksmith probed about my marital status once more and I announced I was widowed. He mumbled with mock empathy that I was too young to be alone and needed to enjoy the companionship of men. The tone of his guttural cajoling unnerved me and episodes hoarded in the alcoves of my memory flooded in: The trip when I was twelve, alone on a Greyhound bus and the oily man sat beside me, trapping me by the window. He left his hand on my thigh for the entire ninety-minute ride as he queried me with calm eeriness. The incident that happened in my early twenties as I strolled alone down a residential side street. A gentleman in a parked car asked for directions and I naively strode over to answer. He was midway through his jack off.

Treading through my rip current of alarm, I informed the locksmith I wasn’t ready to date and the conversation was making me uncomfortable. He put forth a counterfeit apology. The safe had yet to be inspected.

When he finally displayed his expertise and cracked the safe, I requested a pair of keys. He went outside to get the supplementary mechanisms needed to craft the small devices. “I could take him,” I calculated. He’s slighter than me and obviously unwell. Plus, my college athlete son was just in the next room. Weapons, however, would alter the dynamic. Channeling my finest Olivia Benson, I peered out my door to commit his van to memory: boxy, white, plain, no markings. Archetypal abduction vehicle.

I contemplated the consequences of ending the service at that moment, weighing the acceptable balance of necessity to trepidation. The imprudent desire to have my valuables secure tipped the scales. We proceeded upstairs once more, taking my son with us.

My unsuspecting child and I reviewed the contents of the safe while the locksmith crafted the keys. My son later confessed he thought I requested his company to protect our family fortune: birth certificates, jewelry, spare cash and his father’s most precious baseball cards. He still viewed me with elementary innocence and wasn’t accustomed to observing his mother fend off suitors. The keys were completed without further incident and we escorted the locksmith down the stairs.

He went out to his utility van to get the invoice. “What was the price I was willing to pay to secure his departure?” I wondered. He reentered, presented the bill for his indecorous service, and asked to see me again. I marveled that he could completely disregard the stench of anxiety spewing from my every pore. Or maybe he perceived it as a pheromone? “Ballsy,” I silently diagnosed and then expounded once more that I wasn’t inclined to begin dating. He continued the inquisition undaunted, requesting a favorable Yelp review. “Absolutely no f’n’ way,” I pronounced privately. I informed the locksmith I would. The gentleman relentlessly advanced his offensive surge as I compensated him for my afternoon of apprehension: “Can I call you in a couple weeks? Will you be ready then?”

The trembling surfaced as I secured the door.


Originally published in @HumanParts @Medium.com